Sam Porter greeted many families as they first glimpsed the fallen World Trade Center towers where their loved ones died one fateful day in September 2001.
Memories of those families and that poignant time rose to the surface Monday when Porter toured the new National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
Porter, director of Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, was among the individuals and groups who visited the memorial during an invitation-only period before it was opened to the general public Wednesday.
“I had waves of emotion hit me,” he said.
“I gave a lot of my heart there, and it is there with those hundreds of family members.”
Porter, 61, said he was one of six Oklahoma chaplains and disaster relief leaders who traveled to New York City immediately after the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. The call from New York came even before the second tower fell, in large part because New York City leaders knew that many chaplains, first responders and disaster relief volunteers in Oklahoma City had gained invaluable experience in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, he said.
Porter said he was impressed during Monday’s tour, which took about 2 hours and 45 minutes, that the memorial museum “tells the complete story” of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, from the 2,983 men and women who died to an in-depth look at the terrorist organization that took credit for it.
He said each victim is described in detail, and many of their belongings are displayed.
“It’s very reverent,” Porter said. “It’s done in such a way, I think, to not only honor the dead, but to encourage the living.”
Like the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, the Sept. 11 memorial museum is interactive, Porter added.
He said visitors may watch the television news broadcasts that showed the “breaking news” when two planes rammed into the towers, plus other print and broadcast news accounts in the days and weeks following the attacks. Porter said some visitors may choose to look at hard-to-watch video footage that shows people jumping out of the towers.
“It’s a very emotional thing,” he said of several aspects of the memorial.
He said he liked all of the detail that is included in the memorial museum.
Porter, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, said his time as a disaster relief chaplain in New York was “tough, but it was an honor.”
As he walked through the memorial, he thought about one little boy he met as the child and his mother stood at Battery Park waiting to be taken to the area where the towers fell about a week after the terrorist attacks. He said the 6-year-old boy told him that his dad didn’t come home.
“I told him: ‘Your Heavenly Father is there for you,’” Porter said.
“We were there representing the Lord in the midst of this.”